Local Treasure: Welkom to Ballard!

As some of you may have noticed, I’ve been taking a break from writing to take care of my beautiful baby boy. During this time off the Ballard community has been so wonderful to me and my family, I thought it would be fun to highlight one of the aspects that makes Ballard a wonderful place to raise a family. Interestingly, this will likely give a different (although hopefully complementary) view of life in Ballard than the video that Dustin linked to the other day.

Ballard is known for having one of the largest Norwegian populations outside of Norway. But the Nordic influences are not limited to Norway as there is a huge Scandinavian influence all around. Along with the Nordic Heritage Museum, there are many local specialty stores that sell things like pickled herring, specialty breads and other traditional Nordic foods.

In addition, the Leif Ericson Lodge plays a wonderful role in uniting the local population through a ton of community events. Lief Ericson Lodge was first organized on May 13 1903 and currently has 2,000 members. Just this past Saturday it had a large bazaar with lots of music, dancing, singing and wonderful food.

We became involved in the community through a wonderful dance class (called Barneleikarringen) that Dustin attends with our daughter every Tuesday night. The class is taught by a wonderful elderly couple who dedicate their time and effort in order to share their cultural dances and stories with the kids. Despite the fact that neither Dustin or I have Nordic heritage (that we know of anyway), everyone at the lodge has been wonderful to our family. (By the way, anyone with children is invited to attend this great dance class… It starts at 6:30pm every Tuesday and the suggested donation is $5/month, which probably doesn’t even cover the cost of the treats that pass out after each class.)


There are a bunch of benefits to taking part in this dance class that the kids simply love. For starters, they get to walk in the Norwegian Constitution Day Parade as well as dance at a slew of community functions.

(By the way, they also have dancing lessons geared toward adults, but I don’t know much about that… yet!)

The strong Nordic roots are just one more reason that Ballard is a wonderful place to live.

Local Treasure: Golden Gardens

[photopress:golden_gardens_beach.gif,thumb,alignright]There’s a fun story on the City of Seattle’s website about the history of the Golden Gardens park. Turns out this local gem was named and developed “in 1907 as an attraction at the end of the novel, new electric car lines being built by realtors to induce townfolk to take a ‘Sunday outing’ out of town and through the woods to a picnic or swim at a beach. (Along the way they were made aware of the real estate available!)”

Wow! Back then agents understood that a rail project adds to property values! 🙂

Of course, some things never change:

“In 1933, the community celebrated the opening of Seaview Avenue, a narrow two-lane road alongside the railroad, but on its own fill behind a new rock seawall, that ended abruptly with a new railroad underpass connecting with the old parking lot and providing a drive through the park, as well as auto access to the beach area. Then traffic really became a problem!

[photopress:golden_gardens.JPG,thumb,alignleft]Why was (and is) parking so tight? Because Golden Gardens is still a great place to take a ‘Sunday outing’ (or an outing on any day of the week!). The park has a little bit for everyone…. There are beaches and creeks for the kids, fire pits for the teens and wonderful views and trails for the rest of us!

Want more? More history of Golden Gardens in this acrobat file (pdf). More on Seattle’s first electric streetcar. More archived photos of Seattle. More archived photos of Golden Gardens. More modern shots of Golden Gardens.

And, of course, there are more local treasures on Rain City Guide.

Ballard Treasure: Hiram M. Chittenden Locks

[photopress:404_0447_IMG.JPG,thumb,alignright]This is the first post in what I hope will be a regular feature. My plan is to post on local treasures… Potential topics include interesting places, events, people, businesses that make Seattle a special place to live.

The Hiram M. Chittendem Locks (also known as the Ballard Locks)

What are they?
The Ballard locks opened in 1916 and were built to raise or lower vessels 6 to 26 feet (depending on tide and lake level) to compensate for the difference between the levels of Lake Washington and Puget Sound. Back when the locks were first designed and built, Ballard was a major economic center with a substantial portion of Seattle’s fishing and freight traffic passing through this area. Today, commercial fishing boats still pass through the locks but almost all of the freight traffic has moved to much larger and deeper ports in other parts of the state. The majority of the boat traffic passing through the locks are personal boats either returning from an ocean trip (likely to the beautiful San Juan islands) or a visiting boat from some other part of the world.

How do the locks work?
Think of it like a huge modified bathtub. The important elements of this bathtub are that it has a plug (to stop water), a spigot (to let water in) and two gates (one on the freshwater side and one on the saltwater side). In order to get a boat from the saltwater to the freshwater, the saltwater-side gate is opened and the boat enters. Then the saltwater gate is closed (forming a bathtub) and the tub is plugged. When the spigot is turned on, freshwater fills the water level of the bathtub up to the level of the freshwater canal (thanks to gravity!). Then the freshwater-side gate is opened and the boat can enter the canal.

At this point, boats that want to go from freshwater to saltwater can enter the bathtub. Once the freshwater-side gate has been closed, the plug is pulled causing the water-level to fall until it reaches the level of the saltwater. At this point the saltwater-side gate is opened and a boat can enter the salt water!

Other Activities at the Locks
In addition to watching the boats rise and fall with the water level at the locks, there are other activities at the Ballard Locks that can make for a wonderful afternoon. There is a nearby Salmon run and during the summer, some interesting gardens and sculptures, and the grounds are home to some great entertainment on weekends during the summer.

From the locks it is just a short walk along a spillway to get to the “fish ladder” that allows fish to bypass the locks and get to their natual habitat on Lake Washington and beyond. Sockeye, Chinook and Coho salmon, as well as cutthroat trout and steelhead use the ladder to migrate through the canal to Lake Washington. All of this is fun and educational making it a great place to take kids!

Another fun activity at the Ballard Locks is to visit the beautiful botanical gardens. Spreading over seven acres bordering on the canal are some 500 species and 1,500 varieties of mature trees, shrubs and flowers from all over the world. In addition, a small stage is set up most weekend days during the summer on a grassy knoll making this a fun place to spread a blanket and enjoy a picnic.

More links:

Do you have an idea for a local treasure that you’d like to see featured on Rain City Guide? Let me know.